Burn the Midnight oil, Beat the System, or Quit the slow Bungling

A blind old man had heard a lot about the coveted price of vanilla on the market, so he got his sons to plant vanilla for him too. Harvest time arrived; he dried his crop and travelled some 2 hours to reach the provincial center to sell his treasured commodity. Returned home late that afternoon and his brother-in-law asked how the day went.

The blind old man answered, ‘brother-in-law, finally I see light’. He had done a good day’s sale and has gotten paid a good sum of money for his produce. We have hundreds of laid-off and unemployed workers in our community right now who need to see light.

Surrounded by light

The only people who’ve kept on seeing light since the Coronavirus struck the world some two months ago are our neatly uniformed officials who are still on full salaries while their funders (the private sector and their respective employees) are groping around in Covid-inflicted darkness.

The employment stabilization package (part of the ESP), was publicly announced some 6 weeks or so ago by top senior officials on national TV. We’re now into the second last week of May and very soon it will be mid-2020. Still nothing tangible has come out of it. Meanwhile our jobless families’ children need food, parents need to pay for water, rent, electricity and other basic needs. But they can’t.

Three SOEs declared to date, yet officials are still working normal hours under the abnormal circumstances we now live in. If people are arriving at work at 8am, issue instructions for people to be at work by 7am.

If they are faithfully knocking off work at 5pm sharp, delay that till 8 or 9 pm, until the ESP has been successfully rolled out. People have had enough of the talks and promises. How about if officials’ salaries were halted until they roll out funds to laid-off worker, would that make them deliver on time?

Burn the Midnight Oil

I think it is high time our officials started burning the midnight oil to get things done. Back in high school, college and especially university the very same officials were forced to stay up very late to get those assignments in on time or to prepare for their 3-hour-long exams. Nothing new to them! The difference now is they are being paid for “service delivery” to the people (yes; that beautiful rhetoric we always hear from our national leaders on whose executive tables the buck stops). Public perception right now unfortunately doesn’t look too good on the new leadership, especially when the money has been sitting there all along.

If we claim to be elected ‘by the people and for the people’ then by all means prove it. While you’re on full salary and you tell somebody who’s been forced jobless and under pressure for almost two months to ‘be patient’, that simply doesn’t go down well with people. They don’t buy it.

When it comes to social security, it is not just their nuclear family but the extended family members who have depended on them all along to help sustain. Remember, we live in Vanuatu, not Australia or NZ.

Time and the System

We have two other potential hiccups. Firstly, the procedures and systems put in place to ensure accountability over funds; secondly, time management. A brief commentary on both might help.

It appears that our payment processes have been set up for ‘peacetime’ operations. In crisis time it fails miserably. If there’s a faster route to beating the system in order to save lives that would be great. The Government should review and adjust it to respond more efficiently and effectively during crisis time. We will face more crises (disasters and pandemics) in future.

We cannot afford to go through the same motions like this again. The present system behaves as if humans are machines or robots that can stand idle for several weeks without fuel and still not budge or complain. That’s insane.

On time management, we have a lot to think about here. Whist having earlier raised the point about burning the midnight oil, people can actually work smarter. When I went to agriculture in mid-2013 I came across a laissez-faire culture – inherited from days past. So I circulated the following favorite statement from a writer.

‘There is no excuse for slow bungling at work of any character. When one is always at work and the work is never done, it is because mind and heart are not put into the labor. The one who is slow and who works at a disadvantage should realize that these are faults to be corrected. He needs to exercise his mind in planning how to use the time so as to secure the best results. By tact and method, some will accomplish as much in five hours as others do in ten’.

So many people ‘...are always at work not because they have so much to do but because they do not plan so as to save time. By their slow, dilatory ways they make much work out of very little. But all who will, may overcome these fussy, lingering habits. In their work let them have a definite aim.

Decide how long a time is required for a given task, and then bend every effort toward accomplishing the work in the given time. The exercise of the will power will make the hands move deftly’.

The famous C. Northcote Parkinson once said, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Informed by the earlier statement and Parkinson’s Law I then instructed those wonderful Directors at MALFFB to start delivering certain tasks per strict deadlines or explain with full justifications why the delay. They saw the light and rallied behind it.

And we got things done! And MALFFB emerged from the dark and became the Ministry of excellence that it is today! Finance should do the same, and do it fast. We have thousands of desperate lives to rescue.

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